Members gather for a Wider Horizons meeting. Photo courtesy of Wider Horizons
Members gather for a Wider Horizons meeting. Photo courtesy of Wider Horizons

Wider Horizons is a community village for seniors that provides social interaction and assistance for everyday life, activities and even educational opportunities for members. 


“You’re getting older. You like living in Central Seattle. You want to stay in your own house, condo or apartment but realize you need a little support to do so,” the Wider Horizons website announces. “You desire to meet people in the changing and diverse community around you. Wider Horizons offers a supportive community, activities and resources.” 


Everyone is faced with the effects of aging, but some face those changes alone, without loved ones or family to help as physical ability and mental facilities fade, according to multiple studies and national data. A simple accident such as fall or slip in the bathroom could leave a person without the ability to care for him- or herself, prepare food, clean or run routine errands. 


According to the website, social interaction and living full, active lives is the main focus, with an annual fee that allows members to participate in events such as art and crafts, shows and music. Planned outings provide a way for residents to stay involved with their community, while meaningful conversation keep minds alert, according to Wider Horizons. 


Building a community


Perhaps the most valuable benefit is case management: Volunteers and staff assist with dealing with doctors, insurance and connecting members with needed services. 


“I have realized how very important community is since my stroke. They even provide rides to doctor appointments and one person helped me get groceries when I was sick!” said member and Madison Park resident Kathleen O’Conner said. “It also offers educational and social activities, as well as help with health advocacy, care management and transportation services. Too many seniors live alone and in social isolation, as their spouses and friends die and as their professional circles fade away. Many don’t have family in the area.”


O’Conner said that it is all about being a community of people who help one another: “’Community’ is the most important word. The saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ — well, it takes a community to support our elders. Some of us are temporarily disabled, and some of us need help for a short period of time.” 


As an example, O’Conner recalled that her kitchen lights had gone out and she was without a light in that area of her house for two days. 


“Finding a reputable electrician who is not going to charge you an arm and a leg, that’s quite a challenge, but the organization vets vendors,” she said. “I got a referral, and the guy came out the same day.”


O’Conner also said that she comes from a military family who moved around a lot, so she learned to contact and join in communities easier than others who don’t know how to make those connections. 


“Some people are shy, and they don’t know to reach out to other people,” she said. 


The organization has book clubs and other activities, including a group who knit and make scarves, caps and mittens for those living in homeless camps.


“We all want to help and be a part of a community, and that’s what it’s all about — we want to give back,” O’Conner said. “When I had my stroke, I was really very lucky because I had close friends to help me, drive me to the doctors and such, but you can’t keep asking them all the time. Nobody likes to be alone. I like doing things, and this lets me put water back into the well.”


Volunteers needed


Wider Horizons executive director Denise Klein said that since its launch in 2014, the size of the organization had grown to 76 members. A recent member meeting included nearly 40 people who attended mini-workshops on such topics as smartphones and tips on gutter cleaners. 


Wider Horizons depends on community goodwill. “We can use drivers, folks who can do minor home repair, tech assistance, and we can always use good partners and collaborators, particularly those that could host an event for 40 to 50 or more,” Klein said. 


The biggest challenges have been building membership, raising revenue and recruiting volunteers, she said.


“Wider Horizons helps elders stay put in their own homes by essentially building a virtual village around them,” a press release on the organization read. “Just about 75 members volunteer to help each other with tasks, ranging from rides to computer tech to assembling a storage bin.”


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